Question: "Why does my cat potty in the sink or tub?"
Doris and Dave share care responsibilities for Toby Noel, a neutered and front declawed four-and-a-half-year-old male cat adopted from a shelter at three months of age. He is an "only" cat, so they've provided one litter box in the den which is near to the kitchen but not sleeping areas. At his annual checkups, the vet said the kitty is healthy.
"Sometimes he pees in the tub. He seems to like porcelain," writes Doris. "This has happened off and on since we first had him and the vet has no ideas. There have been no changes recently. But Dave's brother who lived with us died in September. This did not start up again until two weeks ago. We keep the bathroom door closed and the litter box is kept very clean," she says. "I am curious if you have run into this. He uses it to pee and poop in the sink or tub. But recently, he pees in the tub. My vet is stumped and has not seen this before. Thanks for your help!
What a great question! Feline potty behavior varies between cats and problems may stem from health issues, environmental factors, or both. Veterinarians and behavior specialists look at the cat's physical and emotional health, as well as traits of instinct to help figure out what's going on and find solutions. Think of this as the H.I.S.S. Test, which stands for health, instinct, stress, and symptom solvers.
Cats that make a point of eliminating right in front of the owner-squatting in your presence to wet or poop may be crying out for help. Cystitis sometimes prompts cats to urinate in odd places and make a point of it by posturing in front of their human, and sometimes this is in the sink or tub.
Painful elimination due to constipation, for example, can prompt cats to avoid the litter box if they associate it with discomfort.
Some felines prefer to have separate facilities for solids and liquids. Even though there may be more than enough room in the single litter box, Toby may prefer to have a fresh box for potty deposits.
The stress of losing a beloved family member can't be disregarded. Stress often affects the cat's emotional health. Even if Toby wasn't bonded to Dave's brother, he'll feel and react to YOUR mourning, as well as any change in routine.
S=Symptom, Signs & Solutions
I subscribe to an email list that many professional cat breeders frequent. Eliminating in the sink or bathtub actually is not at all uncommon! However, there is no definitive reason for the behavior, and a combination of factors vary from cat to cat.
With intact cats, pottying in the sink or tub can be a form of marking behavior especially in a multiple cat household. Even some neutered cats use uncovered feces as a way to mark territory. Toby's age tells me he's recently reached social maturity and may wish to make his mark literally and figuratively. You don't get a more stark statement than dark stool on white porcelain!
Front declawed cats sometimes develop aversions to digging in the litter. This may be a factor since Toby does not have his claws. I would suspect that porcelain feels nice and cool against paw pads, compared to gritty litter.
Also, the tub or sink cleaner may influence his preference. Cats often are attracted to the smell of bleach and like to eliminate on top of it. So a shiny clean surface that hints at bleach may be very inviting.
Finally, there's a reason they call it copy-cat behavior. Do you ever allow Toby in the bathroom when you must use the facilities? Cats often follow owners to the bathroom. It's not beyond the realm of possibilities that Toby tries to emulate his beloved owners, and the tub and sink don't have pesky water that would offend him if he happened to lose his balance while posing!
I have two suggestions. First, add a second litter box, preferably in a different room so that Toby has an option for using a box for #1 and the other for #2. And second, maybe you could simply place the second box inside the empty bathtub? I know a number of professional cat breeders who manage the issue this way. It helps enormously with clean up - as long as you remember to remove the box before you bathe! Good luck!